Posted by EricEnge

Yes, we all know that content marketing is all the rage. More and more brands are embracing content marketing as a basic way to engage with the community at large, and to build credibility, trust, and relationships with potential customers.

You’ve probably also heard about content fatigue, or the oncoming content glut. Mark Schaefer attracted a ton of attention on this topic with his post, “Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy.” A key part of his thesis is that each human “has a physiological, inviolable limit to the amount of content they can consume.”

He then goes on to say that “deep pockets win,” that the entry barriers will become higher and higher, and that the level of investment that one will have to make in content to win will become impossibly high for most businesses. Many responded with counter-arguments, including this article by Joe Pulizzi called “Content Shock: Worrisome Trend or Content Marketing Myth?,” in which he includes a reprint of an article by Shel Holtz. These articles takes issue with the notion that content marketing is not a sustainable business strategy.

Just yesterday, Moz published a study that it did in conjunction with BuzzSumo entitled “Content, Shares, and Links: Insights from Analyzing 1 Million Articles.” This study shows that the great majority of content gets little material response:

  • 75% showed no external links
  • Over 50% had 2 or fewer Facebook interactions (shares, likes, or comments)

These are not the metrics that most people are shooting for. So what’s the deal? Can today’s content marketer survive? Who will be the winners and losers? In my view, content marketing is here to stay for one basic reason: it provides a way for business to connect and build trust with their prospective customers. In a world that is becoming increasingly digital, people still need and want a relationship with the businesses from which they buy products and services.

For that reason, people want to consume useful, engaging, and/or entertaining content. The fact that there is a flood of it available will not cause that desire to be suppressed. People will just become selective, and use all the filtering technology that exists out there to manage that flood. They will also use social media and relationships they trust (friends and influencers), and perhaps search engines, to help them discover new content providers to explore as well.

I also believe that there are more ways to create differentiated content than initially meets the eye. I agree that it’s not for everyone, but it will give those that successfully engage in it a clear business advantage over those that don’t. In today’s post, I address my 6 basic paths for remaining one of the winners when the content glut truly arrives. Before we start, I have to add the obligatory note that all of these paths assume that you are producing excellent content that people will find valuable once they do engage with it.

Some of these initially may look like they align with Schaefer’s points in his article, but I’ll show you that you don’t need to have a huge bankroll to do them.

Path 1: Leverage a megabrand

This is easy if you already have such a brand. The fact is that a brand is already a source of trust and credibility. If someone sees a large brand publish a piece of content, the very presence of the brand on that content already helps it stand out from the glut.

However, if you don’t have your own large megabrand, partner with one, or rent one. For example, 10×10, an organization seeking to empower women around the globe, partnered with Intel. The result was an epic film that tells the story of 9 girls across the globe, the incredible challenges they faced, and how they dealt with them.

This partnership continues, as 10×10 was featured in a USA today article, including an ad in the content sponsored by Intel. You can see the full content here (warning, this loads a large PDF file). With Intel and 10×10, Intel provides the credibility to open doors, and 10×10 does the hard work.

There are many opportunities for these types of partnerships, as major brands recognize that smaller organizations have the ability to be much more nimble, moving quickly in a way that they can’t. For example, MillerCoors is very public about their desire for content partnerships.

Another potential path is to get a thought leader to work with you and either hire them, or partner with them. The presence of a well-known name on your content will always help you rise above the noise of the crowd.

Some examples of this in action is offered in this Forbes article. It includes a summary of the work that Jessica Alba has done together with The Honest Co., leading to lots of press that the company would have had difficulty obtaining without her.

Sometimes that top-tier star or thought leader might be expensive. You can always attach yourself to someone who is not quite at the top tier yet, but who is still strongly recognized. They may be hungrier and more agressive, and that’s a good thing.

Path 2: Invest more (in a vertically-oriented way)

This is another one that supports the “deep pockets win” argument, but it doesn’t need to be that way. No question that some larger brands can leverage this in dramatic fashion, such as Red Bull with Red Bull Media House, which is actually a separate company. They help fuel that organization’s success with crazy stunts, such as Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space.

Now, your company may not be Red Bull, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be willing to invest more in a given campaign than others have done. The key is to focus on one very specific area.

For example, Best Made Company focused their primary content marketing efforts on building an Instagram presence and in putting together stunning photo essays in what they call their Adventures. Their Instagram account has over 84K followers. The engagement you see on this shared image is pretty typical for them:

The Toronto Star notes that they have gained an international following and Seth Godin observed about the company that “it is the story we’re buying, not the ax.”

A big reason for their success, though, is the focus they placed on developing Instagram as their primary channel.

Path 3: Be unique

Uniqueness is a huge asset in this game. It’s going to be very hard to get people interested in your 700-word article about tips for filling out a college application. Thousands of variants of this article already exist.

But, if you create an interactive graphic where you ask people to predict what percentage of Americans go to college by income category, and then show them the right answer, you could have a hit on your hands.

The article linked above includes an interactive graphic where you click on the chart to mark down your guess as to what the curve looks like. You can see my results here:

I have no doubt that this piece had far greater impact because of its interactive nature, and the incremental effort to make it interactive in this fashion was just not that large.

The notion of being unique can work even better when you map a unique content strategy together with a unique brand strategy. One company that does this extremely well is Burlington, Vermont-based Seventh Generation. They are so committed to content marketing as being the way to drive their brand that it dominates their home page:

People have responded in droves. Their Facebook page has over 1.3 million likes, and their Twitter page has over 75,000 followers.

Path 4: Get the early-mover advantage

As much as you hear and read about content marketing, there are still tons of markets where no one has started to do a really good job at it. Jump in now and claim that early-mover advantage.

Even if your market already has competitors doing a great job with content marketing, find a specific niche in that market and establish yourself as the number one expert in that space.

Or, identify a specific channel that no one is dominating yet. Perhaps you can become the company that owns the topic area on Instagram, Snapchat, or some new social network that launches in the next 12 months.

Find your spot, jump in, and dominate it. Once you are established, you are the brand in that niche or channel.

For example, Adweek wrote about this in their article, “10 Trends Shaping the Future of Branded Content“:

Brands will continue to partner with talent that builds credibility with millennials. YouTube’s Michelle Phan recently inked a deal with L’Oreal, while HP created a TV spot featuring Vine influencers Robby Ayala and Zach King. We’re even seeing companies like Vessel emerge to elevate and promote social media stars. Anticipate more companies like Niche Media—which pairs social media content creators with established brands—stepping up as traditional talent agencies start to diversify their talent portfolio.

Path 5: Promote better

Having the best content is simply not enough. You need to promote it effectively. And even if your content is not quite as good as someone else’s, if you do a better job of promoting it, you can still win. A superior promotional strategy by itself can help your content rise above the noise, earning the attention you want it to get.

Of course, the best of both worlds is to have the best content and the best promotion. Even an excellent promotional strategy won’t rescue crap content, so make sure it’s really solid, no matter how great your promotional push is going to be. The title of the post has a lot to do with getting effective results, as does the use of high-quality, compelling images. These may seem like content creation items, but tuning your content to your audience is a big part of content promotion success.

One key component of better promotion is effective influencer marketing, which was written about by Adweek in July 2015, and I wrote about this on Moz back in 2012. Influencers can really help your content spread. The key to success with this concept is building those relationships so they want to share your stuff.

A vertical focus can help, too. Recall my example of Best Made Company and their focus on Instagram as a primary channel. Because of that focus, they tuned their content specifically to that platform, and that helped drive the results and visibility they have obtained in a big way.

This notion of being better at promoting has many elements to it. For example, Buffer argues that you should repost content to help it spread. The following chart from the Buffer article helps illustrate the value of this:

You can also repurpose that content, too, and spin off follow-on pieces of content. For example, if you have created a piece of epic content, you can get opportunities for follow-on interviews or guest posts on other media sites. I did this earlier this year in this follow-on guest post I placed on Hubspot about Google’s indexation of Tweets.

Path 6: Work harder

Put simply, be willing to grind it out. Your competitor might not be willing to put 100 hours into a content piece. Yet, you might be able to create some awesome studies related to your market space if you are (or you are willing to fund a contractor or intern to do it).

The willingness to roll your sleeves up and do the stuff that competition does not is often the defining reason why some businesses succeed as a business and others do not. The same concept holds true for your content marketing efforts. Dig in and do the hard work that others don’t, and this opens a lot of doors for you.

Back in May of 2014, Concert Hotels published a chart put together for them by digital marketing agency Distilled on the vocal ranges of what they dubbed the World’s Greatest Singers. This involved listening to all of their music and finding the highest and lowest notes each artist hit in the recording studio. This was undoubtedly a project that involved more than a few hours of work.

The original piece garnered over 111,000 likes and shares on Facebook. In addition, it was covered in an article on the Huffington Post that received almost another 130,000 likes and shares on Facebook. A handsome payoff for doing the hard work that others are not willing to do!

Don’t fear the glut

In principle, I agree with much of what Mark Schaefer said about the massive increases in the volume of content, but at this point in time, I don’t see any market space that’s particularly crowded. With the right creativity, drive, and focus, there remain many possible paths to content marketing success in nearly any industry.

Keep in mind that ANY successful business tactic (not just content marketing) rapidly gets adopted by large numbers of businesses because people follow the money. That means there will be winners and losers, but that doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands and surrender.

If you are going to succeed in business, you need to do something better than most of the people you are competing with, and the world of content marketing is no different. It’s not time to give up, it’s time to go out there and win the game.

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